Extra Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace

Extra Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace

Extra Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace

Extra Life: Coming of Age in Cyberspace


Today's digital culture traces its roots to the 80s, when the first computer generation came of age. These original techno-kids grew up with home-brew programs, secret computer access codes, and arcades where dedicated video gamers fought to extend their play by earning "extra life". In that era of gleeful discovery, driven by a sense of adventure and a surge of power, kids found a world they could master, one few grownups could understand.

In this memoir, popular media chronicler David S. Bennahum takes readers back to his initiation into this electronic universe, to his discovery of PONG at age five. We follow him from video-game addiction -- his Bar Mitzvah gift was an Atari 800 with 48K of RAM -- to his ascent to master programmer with the coveted title of "Super User" in his high school's computer room. Bennahum reflects on how computers empowered him and his friends to create a world of their own. We see how their geekiness, grounded in role-playing, iterative thinking, and systems analysis, led to a productive, social existence -- the "extra life" they found on the other side of the screen. Hilarious, poignant, and packed with little-known computer lore, Extra Life is a grand digital adventure set against the background of the emerging information age.


The first computer I ever owned sat in a brown box for ten years. in 1986, just before my high school graduation— after a test of wills that failed to end my mother's marriage—I walked out on her and my stepfather and went to live with my dad. When it became clear I wouldn't be coming back, my mom packed up all my possessions and placed them in a warehouse just about a mile from the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, creating a time capsule, a snapshot of my life. There they stayed, left to face the extremes of heat and cold until one April morning in 1996 when I crossed the East River to reclaim them.

It was a clear day and the halls of the warehouse were dim. Silent rows of metal containers stood side by side, padlocked, a halfway house for cast-off treasures no longer a part of their owners' lives, yet with too much history to be consigned directly to the curb as worthless trash. It was a place frozen in time, where children come to find their parents' things and parents come to leave their children's things.

My computer should have been trash, thrown into the dustbin of technological history like any other electronic appliance unable to compete with the latest upgrade, but putting it out with the garbage would have been like putting . . .

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